Oshawa’s Black History: One Family’s Story, Part 1

By Lisa Terech, Youth Engagement/Programs

In early 2012, the Oshawa Community Archives was invited to participate in a Black History Month event at Trent University; specifically, we were asked to present on Black History in Oshawa.  A few months prior, while researching the Port Oshawa Pioneer Cemetery and those buried there, I came across the Dunbar family who were laid to rest there.  My initial research showed that this was a family of Black descent, a pleasantly unexpected find for this early pioneer cemetery.  Jennifer Weymark, our archivist, and I saw this Trent project to be a good chance to investigate further the Dunbar family, who they were, what was their story, and what would have brought them to Oshawa.

Black History Month at Trent University Oshawa, 2012
Black History Month at Trent University Oshawa, 2012

Two years later, and this family’s story is one that still intrigues us, and we are continually adding to our knowledge of this early settler family.  As their story can be told through several generations, we will be sharing parts of the story throughout the month of February.


With any story, let’s start at the beginning.  Wealthy Ann Dunbar was born in 1795 in Vermont, a daughter to Samuel Dunbar Sr.  The family would move across the border to Stanstead, Quebec.  Wealthy married a man named Peter Andrews in c. 1821 and together they had 4 known children (Sarah, Freeman, Elizabeth, and Mary) and 1 adopted daughter (Amy Jane).  We do not know for sure when Peter and Wealthy relocated to East Whitby Township, but it likely after the death of Wealthy’s father in 1843.

Given the incredibly small percentage of “coloured” people living in East Whitby, the reasoning behind moving to this area is unclear.  According to the 1852 Census of Canada West, there were 17 people listed as coloured in East Whitby Township.  This means that .2% of the population of 8479 were listed as coloured. Most of those counted were single men but there were a couple of families listed as well.  How did Jennifer find this statistic?  It’s simple.  She counted the column for “Coloured – persons – Negroes,” a statistic the enumerator had to account for.

The reasons why the Andrews moved are not known and neither are the reasons for choosing to settle in East Whitby township.  There was no black settlement in the township at that time.

That being said, we have a theory that there may have been a connection between the Andrews family and the Shipman Family which may have contributed to settling here.  Wealthy is recorded as living with John Shipman in the 1861 Census, and there are several ‘unique’ names appearing in both family trees.

Eliza Conant (nee Shipman)
Eliza Conant (nee Shipman)

As well, according to Robert Pankhurst, great-grandson of Wealthy Andrews, Wealthy and her family resided in a log house on property owned by Thomas Conant, whose wife was Eliza Shipman.  With enough small coincidences like this, we strongly feel that the Shipmans may have been the reason for settling here in Cedar Dale.

What became of the family after they moved to East Whitby?  The story continues next week.

The Month That Was – February 1948

Bomb Blast Injure 20 in Palestine
February 2, 1948
Written By, Carter L. Davidson

Jerusalem, Feb.2- (AP)- Police said today they were still unable to fix the blame for a bomb blast which wrecked the Palestine post last night, injured at least 20 persons and touched off an $800 000 fire.

One Arab source said Arabs did it, other informants blamed Jewish extremists who have threatened the pro-Zionist, English-language daily newspaper because of its moderate stand on Jewish defence.


More Receive Employment in 3 Months
February 3, 1948

Leonard Coulson, manager of the National Employment Service Office here, said today that despite a natural upswing in unemployment the number of unemployed placed in the last three months were up to percent over the same period one year ago.


Council Asked For Grants Totalling Almost $6,500
February 3, 1948

Mayor William Davidson and members of the Whitby Town Council, sitting at last night’s regular session of the council, heard deputations requesting grants totally nearly $6,500 during the year 1948.


Milk Increase in London Area
February 3, 1948

London, Ont., Feb.  3-(CP) – Milk price increases ranging all the way from half a cent to 1 ½ cents per bottle went into effect here Monday.


Tentative Approval to Budget Boosts of Nearly $97,000
February 3, 1948

Higher tax rate for the city in 1948 was forecasted last night when city council gave tentative approval to departmental estimates which exceeded by approximately $97, 000 the total provided under these heads in last year’s budget.


Toronto Leafs Break Boston Jinx, Win 4-2
February 5, 1948

The highflying Toronto Maple Leafs cleared another obstacle in the teams bid for National Hockey League pennant that had them stymied since March 6, 1945.


Gas Trickle Brings Break for Jobless
February 6, 1948

Windsor, Ont., Feb 6 – (CP) – The pall of gloom and lines of temporary joblessness began to lessen throughout western Ontario today as small supplies of natural gas trickled back to shut down industries. About 5, 220 of almost 25,000 workers, unemployed for nearly two weeks, were expected back to production lines at 45 companies.


Ford Sees Drop in Car Production by Import Quotas
February 11, 1948

Windsor, Ont., Feb 11 (CP)- As a result of import quotas announced yesterday by Trade Minister Howe, Ford of Canada may be forced to produce fewer cars and trucks than originally planned for this year.

The Month That Was – January 1922

An Epochal Event in Ontario’s history

January 3, 1922

Ontario has reason to feel justly proud, when on Wednesday last, the first great generator of the Chippewa canal instillation responded to the water power released by the combined effort of Primer Drury and Miss Marion Beck. It was an even prouder moment for the fearless hydro protagonist, Sir Adam Beck, and the army of young Canadian engineers who conceived the daring development and carried it to completion.


The Railways of Canada draw to your attention the new Railway rates!

January 3, 1922

For passengers
The advance on sleeping and parlor car tickets authorized in 1920 has been cut in half- the advanced made on ordinary fares at that time having been completely taken off many months ago.

For shippers
The percent of advance granted to the Railways in 1920 has been reduced ten points, in addition to a five point drop at the first year.


Making vehicular traffic safe

January 3, 1922

Toronto rate payers emphatically stated on Monday that they desire the city council of that city to pass a by-law providing that all vehicles must show lights at night.


More Births, Infant deaths lowered

January 5, 1922

The numbers of infants who died in 1921 under the age of one year was 69, as compared with 80 the previous year, a substantial and encouraging decrease, due largely to the work being carried on by the baby clinics.


Chevrolet Dealers in annual session

January 7, 1922

Chevrolet Motor Car Company sales and service men from all over Canada particularly the eastern provinces, were in conference in Oshawa this week for three days at the company’s head quarters. The conference was the most successful and most enthusiastic ever held by the men who not only sell Chevrolet cars but who recognize it as their duty to keep them running.


Place New Rails on Simcoe St. In Early Spring

January 12, 1922

The Oshawa Railway Company, Early in the spring, or as soon as the snow goes, will commence laying new rails the entire length of Simcoe Street. The present 60-pound rails in service for many years will be replaced by 80-pound best quality steel rails, found necessary to take care of the heavy and increased traffic of the past few years.


Dancing in high schools

January 17, 1922

Collegiate and High school Boards in several cities and towns have been engaged in discussing in recent weeks, according to press reports, the desirability of allowing dancing in the institutions of learning. In some places the ban has been placed on dancing in high schools. In other places, including Oshawa, dancing is permitted at student gatherings.


Young Ministers must be trained

January 17, 1922

“The most important problem of today is the development of Christian character and in working to this end the most important step is the training of our young men for the ministry” said Rev. Dr. Barber.


No Help yet Given to Unmarried men

January 17, 1922

Although there are quite a number of single men in Oshawa out of work in dire straits, no relief has as yet been extended to them by the Oshawa Community Welfare Association.


Would walk rope over Niagara

January 26, 1922

A young English girl announces that she is coming to Canada to duplicate Bondins feat of walking over Niagara Falls on a tight rope. 

The Month That Was – December 1864

During the month of December in 1864, Oshawa’s newspaper would display ads with the word Christmas incorporated as their main attraction. Companies such as Breminer & Urquhart and Murdoch brothers used Christmas as a way to sell their products and to raise their sales. Whether the products are foods or books, in December of 1864 the products became Christmas foods or gifts. Like today people would need to put their summer clothes away and start bundling up. While looking through the 1864 paper it was not hard to come across the companies who were selling cloths best suitable for the fall and winter seasons that would go for about 95 cents per yard. Some companies such as Wood & Bros would accept trades rather than a direct money charge. Not only was the Oshawa newspaper displaying ads on Christmas specials and seasonal cloths, it also displayed skates for sale so people could skate as a winter pass time. Skates were prided on being self adjusted and the companies would often increase the superiority of their skates by referring to them as exclusive. In the winter season the paper began publishing articles related to the season, such as the common cold. An article about the common cold was published in the paper December 7th, 1864. This article explained that colds were caused by one’s own carelessness and a way to explain how to prevent a cold was to stay away from a cool draft. The common cold was not yet identified in the 1860’s so for the people of the time there was still a lot of mystery surrounding this sickness. In conclusion December of 1864 would have been a time for advertising and sales, and a time of discovering the mysteries of effects that the changing of the season has on one’s self.


Here is a sampling of the headlines:


Oshawa December 20th 1864

Hurrah for Murdoch Brothers

A Merry Christmas and Happy New Year for all!

Murdoch brothers have received a splendid lot of layer, bunch, Valencia and Sultana Raisins.

Currants , Figs, preserved Ginger, preserved Peaches, Quinces, Candid Lemon, Orange, and Citron Peel, Soft Shell Almonds, Pickles, Sauces, Lobsters, Sardines, Chocolate, Cocoa, Choice Teas, Pure Coffee, And everything which can assist in making the Christmas Merry and the New Year Joyous.

Hurrah for Murdoch Brothers
Hurrah for Murdoch Brothers


Oshawa December 21st 1864

Books for Christmas

J.F WIllex, Bookseller,

Opposite the post office, Oshawa, has just received a new and assortment of Photograph Albums, Pew and Pocket Bibles. Also the Poetical works of Milton, Pope, Byron, Rurn Lougfellow, Cowper, Monigomery, Campbell, Coleridge and others in elegant gift bindings.


Oshawa December 21st 1864

Christmas- We hope all our friends will enjoy a merry Christmas. It comes on a Sabbath this year, but we understand that all business places will be closed on Monday, so that all hands may enjoy themselves as usual. Our advertisements columns contain a number of seasonable announcements.


1864 ad

John Dickie and his Rebellion Boxes

By Lisa Terech, Youth Engagement / Programs

In early 2011, the Oshawa Historical Society welcomed Darryl Withrow as the speaker for their monthly Speaker Series, who conveyed the fascinating story of the 1837 Rebellion Boxes.  He brought along examples of his replicas, and Melissa Cole, OCM Curator, brought to the meeting the two boxes which are a part of our collection.  Both boxes feature inscriptions pertaining to a John Dickie.  During the summer of 2011, I was asked to research John Dickie, learn more about who he was and what he meant, if anything, to Oshawa’s history.

I spent time poking around on various internet sites, on ancestry.ca and in our very own archives, and the small discoveries I made about the Dickie Family and Oshawa’s past were exciting!

First, a short history of the Rebellion of 1837.  The 1837 Rebellion in Upper Canada was, simply put, a result of the discontent between the farmers, labourers and tradesmen against the elitist system of aristocratic Toryism.  This feeling of discontentment came to a head when on December 4, 1837 a premature call to rebel was given.  Between December 5 and 8, a group of about 1,000 rebels gathered at Montgomery’s Tavern in Toronto, and although this Loyalist militia quickly won initial small skirmishes in the city, the British forces were ultimately successful.  As a result, hundreds of men were arrested, some were sent to Australia as punishment, and two men, Samuel Lount and Peter Matthews, were executed as a result of their involvement in the Rebellion.

While imprisoned in the Toronto Jail, facing charges of high treason, many men crafted small, wooden boxes and inscribed messages to loved ones.  The messages carried many tones, be it political, religious or sentimental, many lamenting the deaths of Lount and Matthews.  The boxes range in size, were made by skilled craftsmen, and the majority are made of a hard wood and are dated.

John Dickie, 1787-1872
John Dickie, 1787-1872

Now, how does this relate to John Dickie?  Who was he?  He was born in Scotland on March 15, 1787, and in 1807, he was married to Jean Dick.  If that name rings a bell, especially to anyone familiar with the Henry House parlour, it should; the parlour features a needlepoint created by Jean in 1801 when she was 14.  In 1821, they immigrated to Upper Canada with four children, and another four children were later born in Port Hope and Oshawa.

John Dickie was a farmer and, according to Samuel Pedlar, a silk weaver.  Pedlar claimed that Dickie had land “in the bush on lot 8, third concession of Whitby” in 1821 and later “cleared a portion of lot 8 on the second concession” in 1824.   Jean died September 12, 1846 and John died January 23, 1872.  They are buried in Union Cemetery, Section F, grave 143.

John Dickie's headstone, Union Cemetery, Section F
John Dickie’s headstone, Union Cemetery, Section F

When I delved into Dickie’s family tree, a connection between John Dickie, box maker, and John Dickie, Oshawa pioneer became evident.  John and Jean had a sizable family of eight children.  As described by Pedlar:

“This couple left quite a large family consisting of the late Mrs. Amsberry (Margaret), Mrs. Samuel Dearborn (Mary)…, the late Mrs. J.D. Hoitt (Elizabeth), the late John Dickie Jr., … Mrs. Mark Currie (Agnes)… the Late Mrs. Stephen Hoitt (Helen), Robert Dickie, and William Dickie.”

71-D-327.15ab - Rebellion Box from John Dickie to JD Houtt
71-D-327.15ab – Rebellion Box from John Dickie to JD Houtt

Mrs. J.D. Hoitt was Jean and John’s third daughter, Elizabeth (1816-1867), whose husband was a man named James D. Hoitt.  One of the Rebellion Boxes in the museum’s collection was inscribed “James D. Houtt From John Dickie, August 1, 1838.” Despite the discrepancy with the name spelling (in my research, I’ve seen Hoitt spelled a number of ways) this connection seemed too strong to ignore.  Marriage records show that Elizabeth and James were married on November 26, 1840, but it is very likely that the families knew each other for a time prior to their marriage.

971.7.16ab - Rebellion Box from George Lamb to Mrs. John Dickie
971.7.16ab – Rebellion Box from George Lamb to Mrs. John Dickie

The second box in our collection is engraved: “Presented to Mrs. John Dickie, From George Lamb.”  This box was intended for Jean Dickie (Mrs. John Dickie Sr.), and not the wife of John Dickie Jr.  My research strongly indicates that John Dickie Jr. (1818-1892) was married three times: to Lucinda Wheeler in 1843, Rebecca Fowke after 1851, and Catherine Ryder in 1863.  As there would have been no other Mrs. John Dickie in the late 1830s, this box was indeed intended for Jean Dickie.

I also relied on Chris Raible, John C. Carter and Darryl Withrow’s book, From Hands Now Striving to Be Free: Boxes Crafted By 1837 Rebellion Prisoners, as a source of information on the boxes.  Their inventory included three other boxes attributed to John Dickie, one crafted by Alvaro Ladd to John Dickie, and two made by John Dickie for his children.  The Alvaro Ladd box provided little additional knowledge on Dickie, but the other two were enlightening.

The two other boxes were engraved as follows:

“To Ln Dickie From her father Jn Dickie, June 30th, 1838.  Beauty is a flower that fades, soon it falls in times cold shade.  Virtue is a flower more gay, that never dries nor fades away.  May freedom smile & bring us peace, and all oppression & trouble cease.”

“A present to William Dickie from his father in Toronto Augt. 11, 1838.  May vengeance draw his sword in rath, and justice smile to see it done.  And smite the traitors for the death of Matthews, Lount & Anderson.  Beauty is a flower that fades, soon it falls in times cold shade, virtue is a flower more gay, that never faded nor dies away.”

While I was unable to ascertain who exactly ‘Ln’ (possibly a short form for Elizabeth or Helen?) was referring to, the provenance associated with the William Dickie box helped connect the box to Oshawa’s John Dickie.  Raible et al notes that William Dickie’s box belongs to the Britton’s, descendants of William Dickie’s sister, and that last name is found in Mary Dickie’s (Mrs. Samuel Dearborn) family tree.

What has fascinated me the most about this research project is the fact that these artefacts contain key information about a man’s life, information not seemingly found elsewhere.  Little information was known about Dickie to Raible, Carter and Withrow, and a trip to the Archives of Ontario to review Rebellion of 1837 papers and jail registers was a fruitless effort, finding no information recorded about John Dickie.  His death notice in the Ontario Reformer was short, and his tombstone in Union Cemetery contains only dates.  On the one hand, being in arrested in jail on charges of high treason could be a chapter of someone’s history that they may want downplayed. However, Peter Matthews and Samuel Lount, who executed as punishment for their involvement in the rebellion, were looked at as martyrs, and the contemporary view of the rebels, taking actions to achieve responsible government, has led to their being seen as heroes.  Indeed, Dickie’s boxes to his children speak of justice, virtue, freedom and overcoming oppression, implying he possibly felt his involvement in the Rebellion would have been just.  If he did not create three little boxes and dedicate them to James Houtt, ‘Ln’ Dickie and William Dickie, the fact that John Dickie participated in the 1837 Upper Canada Rebellion would have been lost in history.

To view a Podcast about our Rebellion Boxes, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lRv5FFz20aw&list=UUl3LYl0oJ9nig5rS-1ghkHw